NEW YORK - Elderly, community-dwelling men and women appear more likely to obtain preventive health care when they live with their spouse, as opposed to living alone or with an adult child, researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health.

Still, colorectal cancer screening, routine dental check-up, and influenza vaccination remain well below national targets according to the Centers for Disease Control's Healthy People 2010, report Drs. Denys Lau of Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, and James Kirby with the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality in Rockville, Maryland.

Their findings call attention to elders' underuse of preventive health care screenings, the researchers say.

Moreover, Lau told Reuters Health, the findings of this study suggest that healthcare providers should not assume that elderly patients living with their adult offspring will have adequate family resources to obtain preventive services.

Lau and Kirby assessed medical expenditure information from 2002 to 2005 for 13,038 community-dwelling men and women at least 65 years old.

Most (94 percent) reported needing help with at least one activity of daily living. Seventy-five percent reported having at least one chronic health condition such as angina, asthma, coronary heart disease, diabetes, emphysema, high blood pressure, or had a previous heart attack or stroke.

Overall, 52 percent lived only with their spouse, 38 percent lived alone, 5 percent lived with adult offspring and another 5 percent lived with their spouse and adult offspring.

Those living only with their spouse were more likely than those in other living arrangements to obtain influenza vaccinations, cholesterol screenings, colorectal cancer screenings, routine physical check-ups, and routine dental care. Living arrangements did not alter elders' screenings for high blood pressure, however.

Factoring in the employment and disability status of adult offspring offered no explanation as to why living with adult offspring had no benefits to elderly persons in terms of accessing timely preventive care, Lau said.

The two researchers call for additional investigations of barriers to the utilization preventive health care by the elderly, and increased education about the benefits of obtaining such care.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, July 2009.